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India have hosted only 18 home Tests since 2017-18; Time to revive Pongal Tests?

India have hosted only 18 home Tests since 2017-18; Time to revive Pongal Tests? India last played a full home Test season back in 2016-17 when a total of 13 Tests were played.

Tamil Nadu Cricket Association used to organised Pongal Test in India (Images: ©TNCA)
Tamil Nadu Cricket Association used to host Pongal Test in India (Images: ©TNCA)

We all know how cricket crazy India is and be it any format, the crowd for a game in this part of the world at any ground is massive. The Indian public loves watching Test cricket for sure and despite the fact that red-ball format is falling behind the curve due to factors more than one, the response to India’s home matches has always been overwhelming when compared to other countries, with the possible exception of Australia and England.

Poor scheduling by BCCI results in huge dropdown in number of home Tests for India

But despite all the fanfare when it comes to Test cricket, the scheduling of these games has been pretty poor in India. If we take the last few years, India haven’t played that many home Tests. One can blame it on the amount of cricket a modern-day player plays but at the same time, one needs to look how many Tests a team like England or Australia host in their home season.

For the record, India last played a full home Test season back in 2016-17 when a total of 13 Tests were played against New Zealand, England, Bangladesh and Australia. In 2017-18, India played just three home Tests against Sri Lanka. In 2018-19, India played only two home Tests against West Indies. In 2019-20, India played a total of five home Tests against South Africa and Bangladesh. In 2020-21, India played four home Tests against England; of course, Covid-19 played a part but the inability of Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) is clear in other seasons, as the apathy continued in 2021-22 when India played just four Tests against New Zealand and Sri Lanka.

The current 2022-23 season will be witness to only four home Tests scheduled against Australia.

This basically boils down to a total of only 18 Tests in the last six seasons excluding the current one, as against a total of 13 Tests in the 2016-17 season.

India have played way lesser home Tests than England and Australia in past few seasons

England and Australia never compromise on home Test seasons but India always do. There was a time in the past when Kolkata used to see New Year Tests every year and Chennai used to see a Pongal Test every year.

The respective cricket boards of England and Australia seldom compromise on home Tests despite the ever-increasing craze for T20 cricket. But in case of India, there has been a clear scarcity in terms of home Tests. Unlike Cricket Australia (CA) or England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), the BCCI in recent years has given higher preference to the white-ball format, especially T20Is.

As stated above, since 2017-18, the number of home Tests hosted by BCCI is only 18 which is very less as compared to 32 by England and 25 by Australia in the said period. Also, Pakistan hosted 14 Tests since the return of Test cricket in the country in 2019.

What is more interesting is that India have played 34 Tests in the said period which is close to twice they have played at home. While this is good as India have improved their overseas record but at the same time, Indian public have constantly missed out on red-ball cricket.

With the abundance of talent available in India, BCCI can easily afford to have teams for each format. They did try it in the past during the Covid-affected 2021 season where one team travelled to England to play Tests while the white-ball team went to Sri Lanka for a limited-overs series.

This could be done often by BCCI as it allows them to invite best of Test sides like NZ, Australia, England and South Africa for a big Test series while the white-ball team can play elsewhere. With this, the home Test season won’t be shortened.

This is actually done by sides like England regularly who have designated white-ball and Test teams; It will be interesting to see if BCCI and India’s team management can take that approach.

BCCI needs to revive Pongal Tests & New Year Tests

Boxing Day is arguably the most celebrated cricketing event of a cricketing calendar and the match played during the Boxing Day week represents a lot of significance. The three countries that host Test matches regularly in this festive week of Christmas to New Year are Australia, South Africa and New Zealand. Sans times like Covid pandemic and other unavoidable circumstances, Boxing Day Tests are a regular feature.

So, why can’t BCCI organise a Test match with the same significance as that of the Boxing day Test. And we did have an event of the same magnitude in the past in the form of Pongal Tests. Primarily played at the iconic MA Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai in the month of January, this traditional Test match used to be known as Pongal Test. This happens during the Thai Pongal festival and the occasion marks the start of harvest season in Tamil Nadu.

From 1956 upto 1965, Chennai hosted 6 Pongal Tests at the Corporation Ground, now known as the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium. This key landmark event was sporadically held at Chepauk from 1967 in a few years with the last one in 1988.

Another significant Test match was the New Year Test at Eden Gardens in Kolkata held from 1951 to 1961, and has been sporadically held since then.

So, is it time for the BCCI to revive these two major cricketing calendar events and generate more interest as an a BCCI needs to revive Pongal Tests & New Year Tests as an annual event.

This will boost the game of cricket both economically and commercially with great deal of quality. Will BCCI pay heed?

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